Identifying Mental Health Problems On Campus

By: Tony Tagliavia Email
By: Tony Tagliavia Email

Can you catch a troubled student in time to prevent a tragedy?

"I'm not sure you can develop any foolproof plan," said Lee June, Michigan State University's vice president for student affairs and services. But he says there are some steps the university can take.

The most extreme?

"We can do an interim suspension in terms of removing the individual from the university," June said.

That only happens if a student is putting the community in immiment danger.

As it did at Virginia Tech, university leaders who deal with mental heatlh say the trouble lies in student writing or saying something that doesn't amount to a threat.

"That's the fine line," MSU Residence Life Director Paul Goldblatt said.

Goldblatt's office trains the mentors in dorms to look for signs of trouble. That can include a change in behavior or an outward sign of continued troubling behavior.

"They put something in writing, they've now said something to someone," he said. "And at that point, when we see that, that's when we will start to involve others."

Others can mean police or judicial affairs, which gives the accused student a right to defend themselves.

But if the writing is simply disturbing, as it appears the Virginia Tech shooter's was, mentors will more than likely contact the university's counseling center.

Denise Maybank is the interim director there. The center can get referrals from the dorms or from instructors.

"Things that might happen through a course assignment," Maybank said.

Professors or teaching assistants might also discover something that raises concern in an email, or through an advising session. Maybank says the center encourages students to be comfortable with the idea of counseling, even if cultural barriers make a student reluctant.

"We do have the ability to assign counselors who are similar in background, race, ethnicity, gender," she said.

Still counseling can't be required as a matter of law. But Goldblatt says if a real danger presents itself, he'd rather see a lawsuit than a student act on a threat.


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